Economic recovery blamed for rising toxic emissions in Maine

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PORTLAND — Oil terminals in South Portland, a ship manufacturer in Brunswick and a semiconductor fabricator in Portland are among Cumberland County’s largest emitters of toxic chemicals, according to new data released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s Toxic Chemical Inventory monitors the quantity of toxic chemicals released into the environment by 84 companies in Maine. The latest data shows that 9.6 million pounds of chemicals were released in Maine in 2010 – an increase of 11 percent over the previous year.

Emissions in New England dropped during the same time period by about 1 percent.

But representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said the federal data is of limited utility without a more comprehensive understanding of the health and environmental risks associated with toxic chemical releases.

According to the TRI, the majority of Maine’s top 10 emitters were paper companies, including S.D. Warren in Westbrook, which discharged just over 270,000 pounds of chemicals into the air in 2010.

The rest of Cumberland County’s emitters released chemicals on a much smaller scale than Warren and paper companies elsewhere in the state.

The second largest in the area, Nichols Portland, which manufactures parts for engines and pumps, emitted about 1,700 pounds of zinc and disposed of just under 13,000 pounds of nickel and copper off-site. Nichols saw its emissions increase over 2009, when it emitted just over 8,700 pounds of chemicals.

South Portland-based Fairchild Semiconductor’s 7,500 pounds of emissions included three acids and hydrogen fluoride, which are used to manufacture its semiconductor wafers.

Joel Rouillard, the company’s environmental manager, said the chemicals pass through an acid scrubber before being released into the air. He said the company’s emissions were up over 2009, when less than 3,000 pounds of chemicals were released, because of an increase in production.

Gulf Oil emitted the most of the four South Portland-based oil companies, just over 8,600 pounds of gasoline-related chemicals like benzene, hexane and xylene.

Just over half of Gulf’s emissions were from “point sources” – vents, stacks or other areas where chemicals are supposed to be released. The remainder are “fugitive emissions,” which for a fuel company probably include gasoline and equipment leaks, according to Melanie Loyzim, director of the Bureau of Air Quality at the state DEP.

Although the majority of the county’s emitters were in Portland or South Portland, Bath Iron Works’ Old Bath Road facility in Brunswick emitted 4,600 pounds of xylene, a solvent, and another 36,000 pounds of various chemicals at the Bath shipyard.

Representatives from Gulf, BIW and Nichols did not respond to requests for comment.

Many companies emitted much less in 2010 than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

Gulf Oil, for example, vented more than 37,000 pounds of toxic chemicals from its South Portland oil terminal in the late 1990s, and Fairchild Semiconductor’s 2010 numbers are 97 percent lower than in 1987, when the company emitted close to 300,000 pounds of toxic chemicals.

Certain chemicals have also been phased out. BIW no longer emits several chemicals that it used to discharge in large quantities in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including napthlene, the main ingredient in moth balls, and aluminum fumes and dust.

Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP’s Division of Water Quality Management, said looking at trends in TRI data over a long period of time is more informative than emissions numbers from a given year. Just looking at the TRI data, he said, can provide an incomplete picture of the risks associated with emitting certain toxic chemicals.

“(TRI) is a public right-to-know kind of thing, it doesn’t have any context to it,” he said.

Loyzim added that it’s important to understand that “what’s emitted is not necessarily what’s out there in the environment … (TRI) is telling you how much was released, but some of what gets released drops out immediately.”

DEP keeps its own numbers on toxic chemical emissions and discharges, and compares them with the TRI to make sure there aren’t any glaring discrepancies. According to Loyzim, none of the companies in Cumberland County violated their DEP-issued air emission permits.

That’s fairly common, according to Dwight Peavey, the TRI program coordinator at the EPA’s regional office in Boston, who said 99.9 percent of emitters are within the legal limit.

As for Maine’s overall emission numbers from 2010, he said they weren’t particularly shocking. He attributed the up-tick in emissions to increased production, especially in the paper industry.

As to why Maine’s emissions increased from 2009 to 2010, when emissions in New England dropped in the same time period, Peavey said it depends on the type of manufacturing.

Maine has “the large plants that we don’t see in other states,” he explained. “Those types of companies have large air and water emissions.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

Sidebar Elements

Ranking the releases

PORTLAND — According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, the top 10 reporters of on- and off-site environmental releases in Cumberland County in 2010 were:

1 – S.D. Warren Co., Westbrook: 271,940 pounds.

2 – Nichols Portland, Portland: 14,476.

3 – Gulf Oil, South Portland: 8,635.

4 – Fairchild Semiconductor, South Portland: 7,512.

5 – Sabre Corp., Raymond: 5,676.

6 – Bath Iron Works, Brunswick: 4,625.

7 – ExxonMobil, South Portland: 4,277.

8 – Citgo Petroleum, South Portland: 3,949.

9 – Silvex, Westbrook: 3,351.

10 – National Semiconductor, South Portland: 2,497.

In Sagadahoc County, Bath Iron Works reported releasing 35,690 pounds.